Tom Richmond: If only there were more politicians like Justine Greening

Justine Greening, speaking to The Yorkshire Post in Sheffield's Winter Gardens.
Justine Greening, speaking to The Yorkshire Post in Sheffield's Winter Gardens.
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JUSTINE Greening was typically ebullient as she returned to her South Yorkshire roots to give her first newspaper interview since being sacked as Education Secretary – the only difference is she didn’t have the Ministerial entourage, and red box, that accompanied her when she visited her former school in Rotherham last year.

She had every right to be bitter about the manner of her dismissal in Theresa May’s botched reshuffle last month, but instead has resolved to use her status as a former minister to advance her social mobility reforms, and equality of opportunity agenda, so today’s youngsters have a greater chance of success than their parents. Many would have been less sanguine.

Her enthusiasm was infectious. She’d visited Rotherham’s Advanced Manufacturing Park, built on the site of the Orgreave coking plant that caused so much acrimony during the Miners’ Strike, and was even more determined that youngsters from her home town leave schools with the cutting-edge skills to forge successful careers at this landmark complex. Why should the most able have to move away like she had to?

And then there were her comments about the conduct of political debate. Had she been verbally abused by opponents at the Despatch Box? “No,” she said before explaining how she’d spent a lifetime learning to make persuasive arguments because there weren’t many Conservative supporters in Rotherham during her childhood.

However the 48-year-old’s most telling point was this. “Growing up in part of the country where not many people shared my viewpoints, it taught me to respect people with a different point of view,” she told me. “I never had a problem with people who didn’t share the same viewpoint.”

These comments say everything about what is wrong with public life today. Politicians from all parties don’t spend enough time listening to their opponents. And neither, on this evidence, does the Prime Minister, when Ms Greening’s approach, and strategy, chimes so closely with this week’s Educating The North report by George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership.

Given Mrs May’s promise to be more candid, let’s see if she can answer this question: why did she think it correct to sack Justine Greening, and keep Chris Grayling as Transport Secretary, in the reshuffle? I’m still none the wiser.

HAVING been told Sheffield is a no-go area in the morning rush hour because of road congestion, I travelled from Leeds to South Yorkshire by train on what was described as an “express” service.

Talk about a prima facie breach of the Trade Descriptions Act. Two carriages from a bygone era – and a journey that seemed a lot longer than 50 minutes.

Yes, travel times will be reduced if HS2 is ever built – I have doubts – but there’s no guarantee that fares on these super-fast trains will be affordable for local people.

And, frankly, Yorkshire should not have to wait 15 years or so for snail-like train links between the county’s two biggest – and most important – cities to be fundamentally improved.

For, despite Transport for the North’s draft plan to improve the region’s railways, there’s still one fundamental problem. Any proposal, and funding, needs to be signed off by London Crossrail champion Chris ‘Failing’ Grayling.

HARRIET Harman – Labour’s former deputy leader – was in fine form when she delivered the inaugural Alice Bacon Lecture that commemorates the legacy of first female MP to represent Leeds.

She bristles at how women are whitewashed from the memoirs of male ministers and is still fuming over the ‘Blair Babes’ photo in 1997 which featured the cheesy PM with a new intake of female MPs.

“It wasn’t light-hearted banter, it was belittling women,” she said before making the case for an all-women shortlist to determine Labour’s next leader. Far from discouraging talented males, she says she would encourage them by saying: “One day you could be deputy leader.”

ARE North Yorkshire’s fracking protesters, and its landed gentry, guilty of rank hypocrisy? The thought crossed my mind when travelling to and from South Yorkshire on two occasions in the past week and passing the county’s coalfield communities, scarred landscapes and financially deprived areas.

As they talk about the impact of fracking, where were they when Yorkshire’s mining towns and villages needed help getting back on their feet following the closure of deep mines? Nowhere. As long as there was power to heat their homes, the ‘I’m All Right Jack’ attitude prevailed.

Yes, the environment is important, but so, too, is energy security and it is this latter argument that needs to be made far more forcefully by Ministers.

I’M slightly bemused Welcome to Yorkshire is now sponsoring ticket barriers at King’s Cross Station in order to promote the Tour de Yorkshire bike race.

Passengers have, by now, purchased their tickets and simply want to get on the train. As for the cost, the tourism organisation’s response was very prickly.

“Disclosing the cost is not relevant or appropriate,” said a spokeswoman who said funding came from WTY’s “marketing plan and budget spending”,

And its value? “We wouldn’t disclose that information,” she added.

SUNDAY nights won’t be the same without Vera, the ITV crime series set in Northumberland featuring Brenda Blethyn as DCI Vera Stanhope. She might be unorthodox in her battered brimmed hat as she drives her aged Land Rover, but the TV detective is more plausible, and better written, than the BBC’s Silent Witness, which has lost the plot.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk